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Warrant Sales

Volume 168: debated on Wednesday 28 February 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will extend the criteria for not pursuing warrant sales for poll tax defaulters to that which applied to rates defaulters before the poll tax came into force.

The collection of the community charge, including any use of poinding or warrant sales, is a matter for local authorities.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the paraphernalia and mechanisms of warrant sales should be used as the ultimate and last resort as a method of debt collection and not as the first resort, as seems to be the case with the many authorities applying for sheriff warrants even where there is genuine confusion, genuine error and genuine hardship on the part of people who are late in their poll tax payments? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that there really is absolute discretion for local authorities to deal with each case on its merits so as to avoid the cares, the danger and the hardship facing so many people in Scotland?

Yes, I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is no doubt—I do not think that there is any controversy—that if warrant sales are to be used, they should he used only as the very last resort. Opposition Members should not confuse the issuing of summary warrants with the holding of warrant sales. Many tens of thousands of summary warrants are issued, but in the past that practice has led to only a few warrant sales being necessary. This is a matter for individual local authorities, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that the local authorities also agree—that warrant sales should be used only if all other methods of seeking payment of a legitimate debt have failed to produce results.

May I declare an interest, Mr. Speaker, as I am wearing a free pair of trousers in the comrie and strathearn tartan—[Interruption.]

This is intended to boost the tourist industry in Scotland. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the roof tax were introduced, the number of warrant sales under the community charge or the previous rating system would multiply by thousands and ruin the tourist industry in Scotland?

There is certainly no doubt that the Labour party's roof tax proposals would hurt pensioners and others on low incomes as they would be expected to pay the same tax as people in comparable properties next door whose incomes might be much higher.

If the Government refuse to grant time for the Bill to abolish warrant sales introduced by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), will the Secretary of State consider tabling an appropriate amendment during the passage of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill which is currently before Parliament? If the Secretary of State is so smart and insolent as to try to ridicule those people who have not paid the poll tax and who are refusing to do so, will he declare his own interest here and now by telling us exactly how many thousands of pounds he will gain annually as a result of the change from rates to poll tax?

I am not gaining thousands of pounds. The whole premise of the hon. Gentleman's question is false—[HON. MEMBERS: "How much?"] I and the vast majority of people in Scotland are paying our legal taxes. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan ) is refusing to pay his lawful taxes and, as a result, is adding to the burden on his constituents, who will be obliged to pay the sums that the hon. Gentleman is refusing to pay. If the hon. Gentleman is a man of integrity, he should not expect his constituents to pay his taxes on his behalf—[Interruption.]

Order. I ask hon. Members not to barrack in that way from a sedentary position. It does not do our reputation any good.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in the case of all taxes of whatever kind which are required to be paid by the individual on demand there is an element that is difficult to collect? That was certainly true of the rates. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree also that the Scottish National Party provost of Perth and Kinross and the Scottish National Party administration of Angus district recognise this and that that is why they are using whatever measures are available to them under the law to collect this tax?

Yes, indeed. Many members of the Scottish National Party are honest, law-abiding citizens. It is unfortunate that their parliamentary representatives in the SNP cannot aspire to such a reputation. Clearly, those representatives do not have the integrity of the many members of their party who are, indeed, obeying the law of the land.

Is it not feeble of the Secretary of State that, when attacking our roof tax proposals, he manages to find just one branch of one Labour constituency in the whole of Scotland to call in aid, whereas, in respect of the poll tax he refuses to listen to the people of Scotland, to his ex-fellow Cabinet Ministers and to fellow tory MPs, who would like to see the tax withdrawn as soon as possible? Why does he not stop the cruel farce of the poinding of goods in Scotland, or at least make some effort to alleviate it by withdrawing now the 20 per cent. minimum payment of the poll tax? Why does he not at the same time make a promise that anybody entitled to a rebate who has not claimed it may do so now and have it backdated to 1 April 1989?

With regard to the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, he should be aware that the Paisley Central branch of the Labour party has attacked his party's roof tax proposals. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) was forced to call on the Financial Times as the only organ of popular opinion which had so far supported the roof tax. When the Labour party has to call upon the Financial Times as its main supporter we know that it is on the run.